Across Australia Days 3 and 4

THURSDAY DAY 17TH JANUARY 2013.

BLOWHOLE CAMP to RIP-OFF CAMP (PENONG)

1 mapLast night we slept long and soundly; in fact, it was the best night’s sleep we have had in months. I’m sure it had something to do with being under the stars.

On this leg of our odyssey there is going to be very little sightseeing as the aim is to get the kilometres behind us and get home as, after all, we have been away for around ten months. Also we want to travel with the cold front sweeping across the southern part of the continent.  In front of us it’s very hot, records are being broken.  At one stop today I commented to a local that it was a beautiful day (it was around 28 degrees) and his reply was we should have been here yesterday, it was 44 degrees.

From Norseman to Port Augusta it’s approximately 1700 kilometres and the road is one of the two major links from the eastern states to the west and due to the mining boom in the west there are many trucks on the road.  Today we encountered a few.

One of the big ones on the road today.

One of the big ones on the road today.

Very rarely do we overtake a long vehicle like this.  If one appears in the rear vision mirror I call the driver on the radio to tell him I will pull over and let him pass as soon as I can.  If we encounter one coming in the opposite direction and the road is a single lane I advise the driver we are going off the road completely into the table drain. 

The longest legal length for a road train in Australia is 53.5 metres (180ft).

The reflection in this immaculate truck shows an even longer configuration parked opposite.

The reflection in this immaculate truck shows an even longer configuration parked opposite.

Giving a big one a go.

Giving a big one a go.

Chevrolet trucks on the road circa late 1930s early 1940s.

Chevrolet trucks on the road circa late 1930s early 1940s.

Crossing the Nullarbor means not only contending with long trucks but wide ones as well; two, in this case.

Crossing the Nullarbor means not only contending with long trucks but wide ones as well; two, in this case.

Wide loads like this are required to have an escort and fortunately, wherever possible, the truck pulls off the road and allows traffic to overtake. 

Wide load in horse-drawn vehicle days.

Wide load in horse-drawn vehicle days.

Warnings that drivers may have to share the road with things other than trucks also appear at regular intervals.

All three need to be avoided if possible.

All three need to be avoided if possible.

How to avoid wildlife on the road.

Slow down as most animals, feral or native, are going to be big and if you hit one you can expect major damage to your car.  Imagine sitting halfway across the Nullarbor with the front of your car stoved in waiting for a truck to lift your car eight hundred kilometres to the nearest major town.

Camels: Nobody knows how many wild camels there are in Australia. Some say around six hundred thousand, others say nearer a million.  All agree that there are too many.  The number is expected to double again in the next eight years.  Camels are an environmental disaster as they pull plants and shrubs out by the roots and pollute waterholes.  As a food source, camel meat is lean and nutritious but unfortunately access to the meat is far from the markets.  In the case of the camel, its isolation is its saviour.

These two camels were used by our son Tim and his wife for a camping trip through the desert west of Alice Springs in 2008.  They are big beasts and it pays not to collide with them.

These two camels were used by our son Tim and his wife for a camping trip through the desert west of Alice Springs in 2008. They are big beasts and it pays not to collide with them.

The very first camel to arrive in Australian came from the Canary Islands in 1840. This was a somewhat unlucky camel as it accidentally caused its owner’s death and was subsequently shot. Others arrived in 1860 to be part of the Burke and Wills expedition and in the next fifty years an estimated ten to twelve thousand camels made their way to Australia and were used as beasts of burden. When trucks arrived on the scene and started carrying goods the camels were simply released and the population has since exploded.

Photo of camels in harness from the National Library of Australia.   http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an24522959

Photo of camels in harness from the National Library of Australia.
http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an24522959

Emus: Don’t trust them, as they are unpredictable. Emu is a Portuguese word meaning big bird and big they are.  The emus (native to Australia) are found in all states except Tasmania (the early settlers to Tasmania ate them all). Emus are unpredictable and one second they are running away from you and in another second they turn and a collision and damage to your car and the emu is the end result.  Emu meat is very oily.  Old timers used to use emu oil as a liniment because of its penetrating qualities; the oil apparently lubricated the joint.  It was said emu oil could leach through glass!

A sketch showing the size of an emu.  Emus can attain the height of 2 metres and weigh up to 70 kilograms.

A sketch showing the size of an emu. Emus can attain the height of 2 metres and weigh up to 70 kilograms.

Kangaroos: These animals are remarkable and to explain their attributes would take more space than I have here.   As far as a hazard on the road they are a little more predictable than an emu, however they too can turn in an instant and a collision usually results in one dead kanga and a damaged car.  If one kangaroo hops in front of you and you miss it you may think all is well until the second one hops out and you hit it.   They often hang around in pairs or groups.  The best way to avoid them is to slow down at night and fit a powerful set of driving lights to your car. Some species of kangaroo can weigh up to 90 kilograms and that is a fair mass if you hit one at even 60kph.

The above animals fall into ‘road kill’ category and unfortunately road kill encourages a feral ecology to survive.  Cats, pigs and wild dogs live alongside the road.  I read some time ago that a German man lived off road kill too.

A near miss. After a dry spell kangaroos come to the road to drink from puddles. This one is not in the best of condition.

A near miss. After a dry spell kangaroos come to the road to drink from puddles. This one is not in the best of condition.

The main predator of the kangaroo (other than humans) is the dingo or wild dog so with this in view someone got the bright idea that if synthetic dingo urine was sprayed along the edge of the roads kangaroos would smell it and take off in the opposite direction.  I don’t know if the experiments were successful.

Sign at Cocklebiddy Roadhouse warning of kangaroo numbers.  A budgie is a small grass parrot and they can flock in their thousands.

Sign at Cocklebiddy Roadhouse warning of kangaroo numbers. A budgie is a small grass parrot and they can flock in their thousands.

There are bigger birds to avoid across the Nullarbor too.

The road across the Nullarbor is used in places as an emergency airstrip.  R.F.D.S. stands for Royal Flying Doctor Service.

The road across the Nullarbor is used in places as an emergency airstrip. R.F.D.S. stands for Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Australians living or travelling in remote areas can face particular difficulties in gaining access to health and medical care. Organisations such as the R.F.D.S. have been established to bring these important health services to remote and regional Australian communities.

This is not a pedestrian crossing. It marks the end of an emergency airstrip.

This is not a pedestrian crossing. It marks the end of an emergency airstrip.

Should there be a serious road accident on the Nullarbor the R.F.D.S. aircraft can land and attend to or evacuate the injured.

Great Australian Bight near Eucla on the WA/SA border.

Great Australian Bight near Eucla on the WA/SA border.

Drop-off into the waters of the Bight.

Drop-off into the waters of the Bight.

When these photographs were taken the wind was blowing a gale. I guessed it was around fifty kilometres per hour.  Had it been blowing offshore it would have been too dangerous to go close to the edges of the cliffs.  It wasn’t a pleasant day for taking in the sights of the Great Australian Bight. It was more comfortable to keep driving.

‘Nullarbor’ means ‘no trees’.

‘Nullarbor’ means ‘no trees’.

Leaving the Bight we pushed on east towards Ceduna into what I call ‘broken dream country’.

Windmills.  Technically these are not windmills but windpumps; a mill grinds grain.

Windmills. Technically these are not windmills but windpumps; a mill grinds grain.

Working windmills are not a common sight these days. Most landowners have opted for solar-powered pumps.  There is something magical about these mills, I see them as aerials transmitting the past.  In days gone by, before hallucinating drugs were freely available, those wanting a kick would go out on a moonlight night and line themselves up with rotating mill blades between them and the moon. The stroboscopic effect sent them on a high.

A victim in the land of broken dreams.

A victim in the land of broken dreams.

People who settled this country had aspirations of making it big time but droughts, rabbits and kangaroos made it hard going and many of the holdings were abandoned. The first settlers who took up the country believed that the area was going to be the breadbasket of the world. Early settlers believed rain followed the plough so it was a simple matter of ploughing the country then rain would naturally follow. There is a town called Farina part way up the Oodnadatta Track where early settlers believed wheat would grow profusely. This was not the case.  Farina is now a classic ghost town.

Another abandoned homestead.

Another abandoned homestead.

Tonight we are in a cabin in a caravan park, not in the bush, but and as far as I’m concerned it’s a rip-off at $98.  Of course we could have camped in the bush but because it was late by the time we stopped and we would have had difficulty in finding a suitable place we opted for a cabin.

One of the negative aspects associated with the mining boom is accommodation providers in the remote parts of Australia (where most of the mining is being carried out) have adjusted their tariffs to mining and exploration company budgets, meaning many travellers cannot afford to stay.  After being in Europe where hotel costs are generally half of what they are here it is a bit hard to cough up $98 for a room.

FRIDAY 18TH JANUARY 2013.

 RIP-OFF CAMP to COCKBURN CAMP

1 mapThe area at the top of the map marked ‘Woomera prohibited area’ is where the British carried out a series of atomic tests between 1955 and 1963. The site was also used for hundreds of minor trials, many of which were intended to investigate the effects of fire or non-nuclear explosions on atomic weapons.

The railway line marked on the map emanating from Port Augusta to the northwest (approx. position) is the Ghan Line, which goes to Darwin via Alice Springs, a distance of 2722 kilometres.

Change of scenery today. Behind us is the endless, sweeping plains country.  In the latter part of the day we moved into saltbush country.  Saltbush is a native salt-tolerant forage plant and is particularly attractive to sheep.  Meat from sheep grazing on saltbush alone has a salty flavour and it is referred to as being ‘marinated on the hoof’.  This grazing event was first observed in the Camargue region of France near the River Rhone, a region we visited in December last year.

Roller coaster country like this is a cyclist’s nightmare.

Roller coaster country like this is a cyclist’s nightmare.

Leaving the Nullarbor the Eyre Highway leads onto Port Augusta (Port-a-Gutter, in some circles), a town at the head of St Vincent Gulf.   Port Augusta has some interesting features including an arid botanic garden where it is possible to see the amazing botany of the area. For us today the attractions were not on our visiting list as we want to get home ASAP and we have been to the gardens on a number of occasions previously.

Often when returning from a long journey, on the last days we just keep going, anxious to get home. We once drove 1300 kilometres in one day in an attempt to get home quickly. Our urgency this time is to do a few jobs before we head for Thursday Island in a few weeks.  Thursday island is off the far northern tip of Queensland.

The arid country near Port Augusta.   I think it was in this vicinity that the photograph of the Indian Pacific was taken.

The arid country near Port Augusta. I think it was in this vicinity that the photograph of the Indian Pacific was taken.

Over this mountain range is Goyder Country.  George W Goyder was one of South Australia’s 19th century surveyors and he was responsible for establishing the Goyder Line, a line corresponding to a rainfall boundary believed to indicate the edge of the area suitable for agriculture. North of Goyder’s Line the rainfall is not reliable and the land is only suitable for grazing and not cropping. The line was determined by a change in vegetation. To the south, the land is composed mainly of mallee scrub whilst to the north, saltbush. In general, the Goyder Line represents the demarcation of a long-term rainfall average of 254mm (10 inches).

The Goyder Line was established in an attempt to deter early settlers from taking up country to the north.  However many did and after a few hard years they walked off their properties. One town close to the Goyder Line is Terowie, bordering on a ghost town but in a charming way.  Terowie grew around a railway junction where two different sizedrail gauges met.  At the junction people  and goods had to be transferred from one train to another and that took manpower and infrastructure.  During WW2 there was an army camp there and troops and equipment heading for Alice Springs and ultimately Darwin were transferred from one train to another. It was at Terowie that US General Douglas MacArthur stood and made his famous speech regarding a Battle of the Philippines. He said: “I came out of Bataan and I shall return”.  Bev and I have spent many weeks in the region and if we were not in so much of a hurry to get home we may have stopped over again. Terowie is a delight for the historian, train buff, artist, lovers of old cars (there are wrecks everywhere) and photographers.

Today we decided to pull up a little early, as we knew if we kept going and went into NSW a burr free and protected campsite would be hard to come by.  The small railway town of Olary (I guessed the population to be about four) had a small parking area so we thought we’d camp there. The problem was it was exposed to the prevailing winds, a threatening storm changed our minds and because we still had some daylight we decided to move on in the hope of finding a more protected location. 

The only spot we could find that was at all suitable at Olary.

The only spot we could find that was at all suitable at Olary.

Storm heading for our camp.

Storm heading for our camp.

Because of the stormy sky we decided to drive until dark or until we found a suitable camp. Well after dark we arrived at Cockburn rail siding, tossed down our swag and without much ado were soon settled for the night.

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About tbeartravels

It's been said that I know a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about little things. I hope I can share some of this knowledge with you as we travel.
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